“In dreams his pale bride came to him out of a green and leafy canopy. Her nipples pipeclayed and her rib bones painted white. She wore a dress of gauze and her dark hair was carried up in combs of ivory, combs of shell. Her smile, her downturned eyes.”

Early in the story, the man is haunted by dreams of his now-dead wife. Traveling the road with his son, these dreams hold particular power. The boy is all he has left of her now that she has taken her own life, but still his memories plague him; they will not go away. He sees the leafy green of the forest canopy, now gone, and his beautiful bride, also gone. It is not clear if this is a dream or a memory, but the description suggests he is remembering the wedding ceremony. These memories haunt his every movement in a world that is dead. They possess the only color and vividness the man can remember. He offers particular detail of this memory or dream, describing the combs in her hair. These memories represent the only things he can hold onto in a world of ash and dust.

“Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come.”

After a run-in with cannibals on the road, a brief memory visits the man as he remembers a library destroyed. It is hard to tell if he’s nostalgic for the library’s thousands of books, or if he considers them all lies. He may think they are little things that made no difference when the world came to an end. Either way, he takes the time to describe flipping through a ruined book in the early days of the apocalypse. This memory, like the others, mixes the world as it is with the world as it was. Memories persist for the man, no matter what the current circumstance. The constant pull of these memories underscore how difficult it is for the man to let go of a world that no longer exists. These memories hold power over him, and even direct his course of action in some circumstances, like when he takes the boy to his childhood home.

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.”

In this last, haunting passage of the novel, the memory of trout running in a mountain stream is objectively described. The description is not told from the viewpoint of the man or the boy. This is an omniscient and all-encompassing perspective on the world of the novel. In this telling, there were once living things all over the face of this earth, but no longer. It is a toneless, objective telling, but there is nostalgia hidden in the words and their meaning. The narrator, whoever it, is nostalgic for a world gone by. The fish in the stream are of our world, now. Yet they will not exist in the future the book describes. This is a pre-memory, or something that has yet to be remembered. It is something precious, and worth remembering even before it has been lost.